Both of these high school boys basketball teams feel like a “30-for-30” segment.
Capital wasn’t supposed to be here — not without two key players — including league MVP TJ Mickelson.
Wilson wasn’t supposed to win these kinds of games. Not with the individual play that left some wondering if the Rams would reach their full potential.
And in a back-and-forth contest with highs and lows for both schools, Emmitt Matthews Jr. just wasn’t going to let Wilson’s season end, scoring a game-high 21 points as the Rams held on for a 58-53 victory over the Cougars on Wednesday in the first round of the 3A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome.
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“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Matthews said. “We like to call our season a ‘30 for 30.’ We got so much going on. But now we’re all motivated and playing together.”
That resolve showed in the fourth quarter. Capital trailed by 10 points near the end of the third quarter before Chris Penner and Matt Mickelson combined to go on a 13-2 run, with Penner scoring seven unanswered points to tie the game at 45-45 with 6:30 to play.
Matthews responded with a contested elbow jumper and Austin Bates was set up by Londrell Hamilton for another bucket before Mickelson buried his second 3-pointer, cutting Capital’s deficit to 49-48.
Only Matthews answered with a 3-pointer of his own.
“We had our opportunities, but give Wilson credit, they made a few more shots than we did,” Capital coach Brian Vandiver said.
Capital, the 3A South Sound Conference champions, looked like a team outmatched without TJ Mickelson and forward Dawson Landers.
“But our kid are resilient,” Vandiver said. “When people counted them out a couple weeks ago and nobody thought we’d be here, we somehow got here. They are a very special group to me.”
Penner scored 20 points and Matt Mickelson and Grant Erickson each scored 11.
And on the other end, Wilson looked like a team with all the talent, but not all the mental maturity.
The Rams turned the ball over 12 times to Capital’s seven, including one turnover in the final minute when Hamilton and Matthews were in a two-on-one break. Instead of dribbling out, Hamilton tried to throw off the backboard to Matthews, but it went off the top of the backboard and out of bounds.
“This was pretty ugly,” Wilson coach Dave Alwert said. “That’s the first time all these kids have been in the Dome and you could tell. And instead of making the smart play, they’re trying to make the highlight play. When you don’t have kids who are homegrown and grow up in the system, it’s hard to get them to understand what smart plays are.
“Like at the end — we don’t need that basket. We don’t need the highlight play. The highlight play is for you to dribble it out and win the game.”
Penner scored on the other end for Capital to cut the Wilson lead to 56-53 with 3.1 seconds remaining. Hamilton lobbed it deep on the inbounds pass to Matthews, the 6-foot-7 junior and best athlete on the floor, who snatched it out of the air and finished at the buzzer to secure the win.
Now Wilson advances to the 3A state quarterfinals to face West Seattle at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at the Tacoma Dome.
Just to get here, Wilson had to survive a district tournament where North Thurston erased a double-digit lead. Hamilton hit a three-quarter-court game-winner against Kelso, and the Rams rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to edge sixth-ranked Shadle Park in the state regional.
Alwert’s stress reliever between basketball games is to watch Marvel movies. He said he played “The Avengers” for his team earlier this week for motivation — on how to turn a bunch of talented individuals into an unstoppable team.
“I was hoping to point out egos,” Alwert said. “My old assistant coach would say, ‘Is your problem bigger than your dream? Or is your dream bigger than your problem?’
“And what these guys have done — their dream is bigger than their problem.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677